View from the Bridge: 6

by John Morrison


6: Watching the river sit

In some ways Milltown is a bit old-fashioned. It's the sort of place where an old guy can walk into the ironmongers and have realistic expectations of being able to find a new handle for his yard-broom. The pubs still look like pubs - even after a refit - rather than the flight-deck of Concorde or Barbara Cartland's boudoir. MacDonalds and Burger King have yet to blight our town with their fast-food excrescences. And Snickers bars will always be Marathons to us.

We don't subscribe to the notion, so prevalent in the 80s, that living next to an industrial river is intrinsically more chic than living next to, say, a glue factory or knacker's yard. Milltown's own river is an unlovely and polluted watercourse, whose water is an impenetrable battleship grey. It offers no prospect of sophisticated waterfront living, nor even a tranquil riverside stroll or a paddle on a hot afternoon. Nobody sane would put even a finger in.

The relics of the past are still very much with us. We may sand-blast smoke-blackened buildings back their pre-industrial biscuit-brown facades. We may convert mills and warehouses into craft workshops and bijou residences. But the fabric of the town is essentially intact; evidence of our industrial history can be found wherever you look. In a society that seems to condone - even celebrate - the sham and the bogus, Milltown seems somehow authentic.

This is perhaps one reason why so many creative people have gravitated to the town - plus the fact that only twenty years ago you could buy one of the tiny 'top & bottom' houses for whatever folding money you had in your back pocket. Prop up the bar of almost any pub in town (apart from the Grievous Bodily Arms, of course, where a tattoo of a pneumatic girl wrestling with a python represents the height of artistic endeavour) and you'll be rubbing shoulders with writers, painters, conceptual artists, musicians and commissioning editors from Channel 4.

We even have an arts festival when, for a few weeks each summer, empty mills are turned into galleries, the windows of Milltown's shops overflow with paintings, and venues large and small take the very necessery precaution of lowering the ceiling in an attempt to keep the jugglers out.

On any night during the festival you might see avant-guard dance collectives from Latvia, shy poets reading their verses from school exercise books or adenoidal nurses from Cleethorpes singing unaccompanied sea shanties. The difficulty is not merely in deciding which performance to see, but whether to venture out at all if there happens to be a repeat of Pets Win Prizes on TV.


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We are up to date in one respect, at least, with our very own presence on the Internet. The Milltown Web is a pioneering example of a whole community going on-line. Once they've set themselves up with the bare essentials - computer, modem, internet service provider, appropriate software and the expectation of astronomical phone bills - the more computer-literate residents of Milltown can log on to the Internet and send emails to each other. Just think how much easier that is than walking a few yards and knocking on a door. We can now fax our orders to the Milltown pizza house; if it's a thin-crust pizza they can even fax it back.

The Internet attracts hysterical headlines about the availability of pornography - as though the top-shelf of Milltown's own newsagent wasn't a more convenient source of smut. And it's true that rather too many web-sites are just a waste of electrons: serving no useful purpose and proud of it. But pointing out that there are too many 'waste a bit more of your life' web-sites on the Internet is like complaining that a night of passion with Michelle Pfeiffer will make you lose sleep: it's true, but why worry?

Milltown isn't, of course, the only place to have its very own web-site. Smutty search engines ensure that the pages devoted to Penistone and Scunthorpe get a disproportionately large number of 'visitors' - even if most of them are likely to be disappointed at what they find when they get there.

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